How do I address issue of driving with my aging parent? | YFS Advice

Youth and Family Services provides tips on balancing independence with safety.

  • Friday, November 24, 2017 8:00am
  • Opinion
Cindy Goodwin

Cindy Goodwin

Dear YFS,

When do we know when my 89-year-old parent should stop driving? We don’t want to wait until it is too late.

Concerned Daughter

Dear CD,

Our YFS Geriatric Specialist, Betsy Zuber, recently pointed out to me that our population is living longer than ever before. It follows that statistically, there are also more senior drivers.

What has not changed, is that mobility means independence — a truth for both 16 year olds and your aging parent. One, expanding their horizons, the other coming to terms with decline.

The symbolism of a driver’s license is also important to seniors. Yet, so are age-related declines in vision, attention, perception and motor coordination — all of these impact safety behind the wheel.

One Island senior told me a story about their spouse simply deciding on their own that it was time to send their license back to the DOL. However, it is not always that easy.

In fact, in Washington there are no restrictions to driving for seniors based on age alone. Concerned family members (or others) can request a DOL re-examination based on a driver’s physical or mental condition, or driving record. Unsafe drivers can be reported to DOL (see www.dol.wa.gov/driverslicense). Or, older drivers can have restrictions placed on their license based on their most current test.

More often, however, it is spouses or adult children who are in a position, like you CD, to talk to your parent about driving safety. Once your parent may have talked to you about getting a driver’s license and now you might need to talk to them about giving one up. This is an appropriate, if difficult, conversation. For tips, the AARP has helpful discussion points called, “We need to talk.” (www.aarp.org/auto/driver-safety/we-need-to-talk).

There are also many alternate transportation options to discuss; from ride-share options like Uber and Lyft, to traditional taxis and bus services. No smartphone, no problem — use www.gogograndparent.com or 855-464-6872 and they will set up the ride-sharing for your parent. Mercer Island Parks and Recreation also has a senior bus for those engaged in Parks programming.

Know that you are not alone, CD. You ask about waiting until it is “too late.” Maybe answering this with your parent is a good place to start.

Sounds like you may already be thinking about a having conversation. Start now, have the talk and remember the symbolism involved with losing one’s license. Honor your parent by starting to talk early and giving them time to come to their own smart conclusion.

Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. The advice offered by YFS is intended for informational purposes only and to guide you in seeking further resources if needed. The answers to questions are not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, psychological, financial, medical, legal or other professional advice. If you have a question you would like to ask Cindy to answer in this column, or if you need additional professional resources, email miyfs@mercergov.org.

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